My good friend and teacher, Beryl Bender Birch, turned 70 this October. Happy Birthday Beryl! Her long-time friend and assistant, Lori, sent out a request for stories about Beryl for a birthday book she is making. I have many stories but this is my favorite. It is something that sounds in my head frequently when I get distracted by what other people are doing.
I met Beryl for the first time in 1999. She was teaching a workshop with her husband, Tom, on the Harvard Campus. There was probably 70 of us practicing in a big chapel. I had been teaching for over a year and was, therefore, quite an expert. I couldn’t help but notice all the people who were doing things wrong. Tom and Beryl couldn’t possibly get to all of them so, during the break, I went to speak to Beryl.
“Hi, my name is Mimi. It is so nice to meet you. I noticed that a lot of people look like they could use some help. I would be happy to help adjust instead of practice for the second half.”
Beryl looked me up and down then said, compassionately, “Mimi, thanks but, I think you need to get back on your mat.” I got back on my mat quite humbled yet a bit indignant. Did I not mention that I was an expert???
Years later, I have had the absolute honor and pleasure to teach and adjust alongside Beryl. Ironically, now that I had the chance to “help”, all I wanted to do was get on my mat and soak up what I could of Beryl’s wisdom. Five years ago, I was introducing Beryl to an eager group of Somerville yogis and yoginis. During my introduction, I told this story of the first time we met. She looked at me aghast and said, “That was you?! I have been telling that story for years!” We had a good laugh.
So, Beryl, I have learned so much from you over the years and often quote you or refer to your teachings. When I describe you to people who haven’t met you, I often say that you are the real deal. You are a real yogi; not perfect, yet always humble, thoughtful, and consistent with what you believe to be true and right, right-action, as you would say. I am eternally grateful and quite lucky to have had you in my life. I look forward to many more chances to learn and apply your teachings.
With eternal gratitude and love, Mimi “Get on your mat” Loureiro